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Downtown 'Caliente' mural may be destroyed

Caliente mural on California Theatre downtown
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If you have ever been downtown, or seen a show at the Civic Theatre, you may have looked up at the skyline on C Street and wondered about the “Caliente!” mural painted on the side of an old building.

That building, the 89-year-old vacant California Theatre, and the painting itself are a part of an on-going debate between developers and historical preservation organizations.

Today, San Diego Historical Resources Board (HRB) heard both sides of the issue from the current developer and the Save Our Heritage Organization.

The current owner of the old theater would like it razed to make way for a modern 40-story residential tower. The $125 million project will be reviewed by Civic San Diego next month. That organization is responsible for downtown city development.

The Save Our Heritage Organization would like to see the building restored and the murals preserved which means the city panel would have to deem it a historical landmark.  

“The Caliente sign is San Diego’s largest and most visible extant example of a traditional sign painter’s technique that is no longer being practiced,” said SOHO’s Erik Hanson to Times of San Diego.

There are another two murals located on the building, one for dog racing and the other for Barbary Coast Tavern, an establishment that was once located inside the theatre.

The technical services firm AECOM, conducted their own investigation into the historical relevance of the site and found that it does not fall into the criteria the HRB uses to determine preservation. 

Liason to the HRB Kelly Stanco,says the HRB agrees with AECOM’s findings.  

 “That [AECOM] report found the signs ineligible for designation," she said to City Beat. "Staff reviewed the report and the designation file for the California Theatre, conducted a site visit and ultimately concurred with the conclusion of the consultant's analysis."

If after the meeting today, the board deems the property not eligible for historic preservation, there are still legal actions that can be taken.

Bill Coons, executive director of the Save Our Heritage Organization  says, “They’ll get a letter from our attorney reminding them it's still significant under CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act] and they still have to treat it that way for purposes of their Environmental Impact Report. And we'll submit it to the state for designation and to the National Register of Historic Places. We're going to do everything we can to protect the murals and the theater. This is only the first shot across the bow."